Valleywise Health Medical Center is central Phoenix is a part of the Valleywise Health medical system. (Photo: Nick Oza/The Republic)
Proposition 449 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot in Maricopa County asks to continue funding Valleywise Health, a countywide public safety-net medical system.
The Phoenix-based nonprofit Valleywise Health includes, among other services, a public teaching hospital that contains both a Level One (highest level) trauma center and Arizona’s only nationally verified burn center. Previously, it was called the Maricopa Integrated Health Care System, or MIHS.
As of Sept. 26, there was no known organized opposition to the “yes” or “no” ballot question. The funding comes from a special secondary property tax that’s been paid by property owners in Maricopa County since 2004. This year that tax amounts to an estimated $36.86 per year for residential property owners of a home assessed at $200,000.
Valleywise serves a disproportionately high number of low-income and uninsured people in the county and includes family care clinics and behavioral health services across the county. Sixty percent of the system’s patients are enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which is a government health insurance program for low-income people.
The system operates the 325-bed Valleywise Health Medical Center in central Phoenix that includes the Arizona Burn Center, and the 168-bed Valleywise Behavioral Health Center — Maryvale, which is an inpatient psychiatric facility and also has an emergency room open to all patients, not just those needing behavioral health care. In total, Valleywise has nearly 400 inpatient psychiatric beds at three Maricopa County sites.
Valleywise Health Medical Center has been treating patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The 85008 zip code where the hospital is located has been one of the hardest-hit areas in the state for COVID-19 infections, data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows.
Valleywise also operates 12 family health centers throughout Maricopa County.
What a ‘yes’ vote means
A ‘yes’ vote means voters agree to continue with a secondary property tax levy that amounts to an estimated $36.86 per year or 0.18 cents per $100 of assessed value for a residential property owner in Maricopa County with a home assessed at $200,000. The average owner-occupied home in Maricopa County has an assessed value of $211,500.
Since 2006, the amount of the secondary property tax levy has ranged from 0.08 cents to 0.19 cents per $100 of assessed value and the total amount collected has gone from $40 million to this year’s amount of $80.4 million.
Arizona statute specifies that the levy can’t exceed $40 million adjusted annually from the first year the tax was levied, based on a percentage equal to the rate of change in the levy limit between the current year and the prior year for the county in which the district is located as determined.
For commercial property owners in Maricopa County, the estimated annual cost of the levy is $414.69 per year for a property assessed at $1.25 million. The average assessed commercial property value in Maricopa County is $1.22 million.
The secondary property tax assessment benefits the Maricopa County Special Health Care District and it was passed by county voters in 2003 when the ‘yes’ answers collected 58.4% of the vote.
The “yes” vote means the secondary property taxes, via the special tax district, will continue to provide 12% of the Valleywise budget. The special tax district is overseen by a district governing board of five elected officials who serve four-year terms.
What a ‘no’ vote means
The levy originally passed in 2003 is good for 20 years and technically doesn’t expire until August 2025, but it’s on the ballot now for planning purposes.
A “no” vote would have a major adverse effect on Valleywise operations because the property tax levy accounts for 12% of the Valleywise annual budget or about $80 million per year, said Karie Dozer, who is the Yes for Valleywise campaign manager.
“The Governing Board would have to consider the options, but eliminating 12% of district revenues would put the existence of the entire district in jeopardy, and radically alter access to public health care, access to mental health care in Maricopa County,” she wrote in an email.
“The Arizona Burn Center would also be in jeopardy, as would all court-ordered mental health care evaluations in the county.”
Who is supporting Proposition 449?
Among supporters of Proposition 449 are U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone; Arizona Nurses Association executive director Robin Schaeffer; Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego; Mesa Mayor John Giles; Arizona Medical Association chief executive officer Libby McDannell; Ann-Marie Alameddin, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association president and chief executive officer; and Steve Zabliski, executive director for St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix.
In his letter of support, Zabliski wrote that Valleywise Health Medical Center is the hospital that takes care of the county’s homeless population, “not only serving their physical needs but their mental health care needs as well.”
Proposition 449 supporter Will Humble, who is executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, says Valleywise is taking a lead in addressing Arizona’s doctor shortage because it has partnered with Creighton University Medical School, District Medical Group and St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix on a residency program.
“Residencies at Valleywise continue to be some of the most sought-after in the nation,” Humble wrote in a recent blog post.
As an example, each year there are 14 emergency department residencies available at Valleywise. The hospital routinely receives 1,500 applications for those 14 spots, Valleywise data shows.
Tax levy separate from $935 million bond for Valleywise
Valleywise is in the midst of major upgrades funded by a $935 million bond authorization approved by voters in 2014 to replace the 50-year-old Valleywise Health Medical Center and fund other upgrades over the next four years. That bond authorization is separate from the tax levy.
Valleywise’s beginnings go as far back as 1877, before Arizona was a state, when Maricopa County created a “pest house,” according to a history of the health system written by Dr. MacDonald Wood.
The title of the book, published by Heritage Publisher in 1999, is “From a Pest House, To a Hospital, To a System.”
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors created the pest house for people with dangerous, contagious diseases such as smallpox.
Over the years, the hospital became known as Maricopa County General Hospital and moved to 2601 E. Roosevelt St. in 1971. The name was changed to Maricopa Medical Center in 1983, “to reflect a more positive public perception,” the health system’s website says.
The Maricopa Integrated Health Care System formed in 1991. In 2003, Maricopa County voters approved the Special Health Care District.
Reach health care reporter Stephanie Innes at [email protected] or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes
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